Explore Japan’s wilderness, beyond its national parks and last frontier – Hokkaido. Translating in English to ‘Northern Sea Circuit’, Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost and least developed island, and a world away from the country’s more traditional and contemporary cities.
Heritage Expeditions, pioneers in authentic small ship expedition cruising, invite you to join them on the ultimate exploration of Japan’s wilderness, beyond its national parks and last frontier – Hokkaido. Translating in English to ‘Northern Sea Circuit’, Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost and least developed island, and a world away from the country’s more traditional and contemporary cities.
Bordered by the Sea of Japan, Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, Hokkaido’s rugged landscape features a mountainous centre, complete with volcanic plateau, and is rightly famous for its volcanoes and hot springs. Among its multiple plains is Kushiro, the largest wetland in Japan and home of the Red-crowned Crane, one of the world’s largest and rarest cranes and iconic symbol of Japan where it is also known as the ‘bird of happiness’.
During our semi circumnavigation of this remarkable island we plan to explore to the outlying Rebun and Rishiri Islands, venture into national parklands, observe wildlife and experience traditional cultures and the swathes of colourful flowers Hokkaido is renowned for. Our voyage also includes a day in South Korea’s Ulsan visiting the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site Gyeongju – the ‘museum without walls’ among other highlights. We’ll also visit the incredible UNESCO registered Global Geopark Dogojima Island, world famous gardens, the serene lakes and forest of Juniko (12 Lakes) park, observe wildlife and discover the fascinating art of Japanese paper making on our visit to the historic town of Matsue with its impressive 17th Century castle.
We hope you can join us for this rare opportunity to join this voyage including Japan’s most enchanting isle as we explore the unspoiled nature, primeval wilderness, astounding rare wildlife, limpid lakes and alpine flowers during this unforgettable adventure.
Call our experiences travel team today to book this amazing expedition on 1300 414 198.
Heritage Adventurer is a true pioneering expedition vessel of exceptional pedigree. Often referred to as the 'Grande Dame of Polar Exploration' due to her celebrated history and refined design, she was purposebuilt for adventure in 1991 at Finland's Rauma shipyard and specifically designed for Polar exploration.
Setting a peerless standard in authentic expedition travel, Heritage Adventurer (formerly known as MS Hanseatic) combines the highest passenger ship iceclass rating (1A Super) with an impressive history of Polar exploration. Having held records for the most northern and southern Arctic and Antarctic navigations, and for traversing both the Northwest and Northeast Passages, makes Heritage Adventurer perfect for pioneering New Zealand-based Heritage Expeditions signature experiential expedition travel.
Originally designed to accommodate 184 guests, Heritage Adventurer now welcomes just 140 expeditioners ensuring spacious, stylish and comfortable voyages, while a fleet of 14 Zodiacs ensures all guests are able to maximise their expedition adventure. Heritage Adventurer proudly continues our traditions of exceptional, personalised expedition experiences as Heritage Expeditions flagship.
Main Deck Triple Cabin - Main Deck Triple Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Superior Triple Cabin - Superior Triple Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Deck 4 Superior Cabin - Superior Cabins on Deck 4 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Deck 5 Superior Cabin - Superior Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Main Deck Single Cabin - Main Deck Single Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Superior Single Cabin - Superior Single Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Worsley Suite Cabin - Located on Deck 6, Worsley Suites are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable chaise-style lounge suite, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Heritage Suite Cabin - Located on Deck 6, Heritage Suites are an expansive 44m2 and feature large double panoramic windows, king bed, large living area with a sofa, coffee table and chairs and grand marble bathroom with a double basin, bathtub and shower, large writing desk, floor to ceiling cabinetry for storage and a flat screen entertainment system.
Departs Tokyo 18 May 2023 arrives Otaru, Hokkaido 02 June 2023
Book between 02 - 31 January 2023 and receive $1,700pp Flight Credit
Call our experiences travel team today to book this amazing expedition on 1300 414 198, we can also assist with flights and additional accommodation.
*Please note that prices are subject to availability at time of booking and may change without notice.
Day 1: Tokyo
Arrive at Japan’s famed neon-lit capital Tokyo, where tradition meets ultramodern and towering skyscrapers sit alongside ancient temples, and transfer to your hotel where our group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening meet your fellow voyagers and expedition guides over dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: Tokyo/Kanazawa
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before travelling by Shinkansen, ‘bullet train’, to Kanazawa. This afternoon you will board your ship, settle into your cabin and familiarise yourself with Heritage Adventurer. We will also take the opportunity to introduce you to your expedition team and our voyage plans as we moor overnight.
Day 3: Kanazawa
Options today include exploring the historic mountain settlement and UNESECO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, high in the remote mountains of the Shogawa River Valley in Hakusan National Park. Take in the sights on mountain walks and experience the unique cultural traditions including the region’s iconic Gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old, designed to withstand the heavy snow in winter and provide a large attic space for cultivating silkworms. Alternatively explore the rich art centre of Kanazawa discovering some of the unique styles of Japanese art. Kanazawa is rightly famous for its Kutani-style pottery, exquisite lacquerware, gold-leaf workmanship, hand painted silk, and classical Noh dance-drama performed since the 14th Century. Wander winding cobblestone streets, elegant restaurants, craft galleries and visit the impressive Edo-period Kenrokuen Garden, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and explore the Omicho Market boasting everything from flowers, to crafts and food.
Day 4: Matsue
We set sail towards the port of Sakaiminato and the entry point to Matsue, known as ‘the town of water’ due to being situated between Lake Shinji and Lake Nakaumi. A highlight of our visit will be the Matsue Castle, a national treasure and one of Japan’s few largely intact 17th Century castles. Other options today may include exploring Daisen-Oki National Park, steeped in beauty and history it’s also the home of rare flora and fauna including the giant salamander, visiting the picturesque Yuushien Garden, the Adachi Museum of Art, learning about the art of Japanese paper making at the Yakumo-mura village, or perhaps you may wish to spend some time exploring the picturesque streets and local canals.
Day 5: Hagi
Relax on board as we sail south to Hagi, originally a minor fishing port but now famously known for its traditional pottery making, which you will have a chance to learn about. We will also have the opportunity to discover the Teramachi District with its temples and shrines, including the famed ‘Ninja Temple’, the Jokomachi District with its old Samurai houses, Hagi Castle ruins at Shizuki Park, and beautiful Zen Tokoji Temple.
Day 6: Ulsan, South Korea
Today we cross the Sea of Japan to Ulsan in South Korea where we plan to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gyeongju. The capital of the Shilla Dynasty and dating back to the first millennium, Gyeongju is known as ’the museum without walls’ and is full of ancient Korean history and Buddhist culture. Enjoy strolling through hundreds of excavated monuments, temples, tombs and pagodas, and experience Korean delicacies, cultural performances, and visit the National Museum with its gold jewellery, metal weapons, and distinctive pottery. Today provides a perfect taste of the best South Korea has to offer.
Day 7: Dogojima Island
Picturesque and otherworldly, Dogojima Island is the largest of the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan and part of the Daisen-Oki National Park and a UNESCO registered Global Geopark. Accordingly it is home to some outstanding coastal and interior scenery to explore and experience. With its clear water beaches, bays, inlets and coves, impressive towering cliffs and rock formations eroded by the elements to the dense forests and steep mountains, including Mt Daimanji which rises more than 600-metres, and ancient sacred sites of its interior, today we discover a rarely visited corner of Japan.
Day 8: At Sea
At sea en route to Niigata, there is time to unwind after the adventures of Dogojima Island. Look for cetaceans and sea birds, join a lecture or catch up on your photos or journaling.
Day 9: Niigata
Today sees us visiting the bustling port town of Niigata, famous for snow, rice, sake, hot springs and the six-arched, granite-sided stone Bandai Bridge, designated as an Important Cultural Property in 2004, and one of the most scenic spots in the city. Highlights here include BandaiAsahi National Park, Japan’s second largest national park, combining stunning volcanic scenery and hot springs with lush forests, verdant highlands crisscrossed with walking trails and home to Asiatic black bears, squirrels, foxes, and migratory birds. Elsewhere Takada Castle Site Park, with it 3-storey castle from the Edo Period, offers panoramic views of the Takada Plain, while the 193 hectares of Fukushimagata Wetlands is home to endangered flora and fauna, including the rarely seen gigantic lotus Euryale Ferox, and listed on Japan’s 100 greatest natural environments.
Day 10: Noshiro
Famous for its local beef, pork and chicken and rice soup known as Kiritanpo, tranquil Noshiro is a modern city flanked by nature with the Yoneshiro River winding through its heart. Gateway to the iconic Juniko (12 Lakes) park, this national treasure is actually a collection of 33 crystal clear ponds and lakes formed by an earthquake in 1704 and surrounded by ancient beech forest. Here we will have the option to explore the forested walks that lead to these serene blue holes including 10-metredeep Aoike (Blue Pond). Other options may include visiting stunning Lake Towada, a 2,000 year old double caldera 400 metres above sea level, and its surrounding forest in TowadaHachimantai National Park and Japan’s largest pine forest, Kaze no Matsubara, where more than 7 million trees were planted to prevent coastal erosion. Known as the ‘Wind of Matsubara’, in 1996 it was designated as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan.
Day 11: Muroran
Adventures abound at ShikotsuToya National Park, named after its famous twin caldera lakes. Another picturesque natural hot spot, the park’s spectacular scenery including its impressive lakes, hot springs and volcanic wonderland, are all easily accessible and offer multiple hiking and walking options. Activities here could include riding the cable car to the top of Mount Usu to take in the grand scale views over Lake Toya or visiting the geothermal spectacle of steaming vents and sulphurous streams at Jigokudani aka ‘Hell Valley’. This afternoon enjoy free time to explore Muroran at your leisure, visit the scenic cape and lighthouse or take in the city from above after a walk up Mount Sokuryo.
Day 12: Kushiro
Major fishing port city Kushiro is rightly famous for Kushiro Shitsugen, Japan’s largest marshland and national park home to Japan’s sacred Redcrowned Cranes (tancho). Once thought to be extinct, a flock of 20 birds were discovered here in 1926; despite numbers now reaching almost 2,000 individuals, the cranes’ status remains endangered due to the shrinking of its wetland habitat. Exploring the marshland’s walking trails we hope to see the cranes in their natural habitat before visiting the Kushiro Crane Reserve to learn about its breeding programme and rehabilitation for sick and injured birds. This afternoon explore the architecturally striking Kushiro City Museum. Equally fascinating inside, discover Kushiro’s natural history and beauty of the indigenous Ainu culture.
Days 13 to 14: Abashiri
This morning position yourself on the Observation Deck or in the Observation Lounge to enjoy views of the coastline and look for wildlife as we sail through the Nemuro Channel and around the Shiretoko Peninsula to Abashiri. This afternoon we plan to visit Lake Kussharo, a stunning tree-lined caldera lake, the largest in Akan Mashu National Park with a circumference of 57 kilometres. During our time here we also plan to visit Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park and its 10 hectares of flowering fields which turn vivid pink from May to early June during the park’s annual Shibazakura Festival.
Day 15: Rebun & Rishiri Islands
Also known as Japan’s ‘island of flowers’, we plan to explore Rebun Island, a scenic isle off the northwest tip of Hokkaido and treasure trove of natural beauty. This tiny island is famous for its rich flora, including many alpine flowers not found anywhere else in the world which carpet the island from late April to mid-September. We plan to take advantage of several opportunities to explore the floral splendour along the coastline which also offers excellent views over the surrounding crystal clear waters, of Rishiri Volcano and the rugged beauty of Cape Gorota. This afternoon we will explore neighbouring Rishiri Island where the skyline is dominated by the dormant volcano of Mount Rishiri climbing to 1,721 metres. Our tour of the island may include walking around man-made Himenuma Pond listening to the birdlife and taking in majestic Mount Rishiri and surrounding flora reflected in the pond’s surface, and Kutsugata Cape Park where we hope to see Japan’s famed Black Woodpecker and Long-tailed Tit exploring the forest walks. There will also be free time to venture into the town or visit the hot springs.
Day 16: Otaru
This morning we arrive in Otaru, a port city in Hokkaido known for glassworks, music boxes, sake distilleries and the picturesque Otaru Canal flanked with shops and cafes built within repurposed 1920s warehouses. After breakfast there will be a complimentary coach to a central hotel or to New Chitose/Sapporo Airport. To allow time for disembarkation procedures and travel from Otaru, we do not recommend booking flights departing before 1300 hours. During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. Please note: Voyages are planned and scheduled pending final regulatory approval.